Boundaries and Barriers in Wuthering Heights and Tess of the D'Urbervilles

28 January 2014
13. Doors, windows, gates, hedges, walls… Consider the part played by barriers
and boundaries in any two novels studied.
The role of physical boundaries in Wuthering Heights and Tess of the d’Urbervilles is important as windows and hedges respectively provide narratives of the female characters’ need and struggle for bodily autonomy. These specific barriers are of significance as they work in a similar way within the texts; both are peripheral boundaries, occurring at the walls of a house or the margins of a field, much as Victorian women were marginalised by society, and are gendered by their close identification with female characters. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles the hedges are a direct representation of Tess’s body and in Wuthering Heights, the windows and the body are closely linked as the text focusses on the attempts of the body to pass the barrier, in a symbolic striving for bodily autonomy. After windows and hedges are seen to be gendered by the texts, they demonstrate female passivity in allowing male narratives to project onto or shape the way in which they relate to their respective barriers and the way in which their body relates to them. The texts then go further to demonstrate the dangers of this passivity on Tess and the first Cathy with the use of violent imagery in the way these boundaries are used against them to cause mental and bodily harm. Tracing the narrative of the windows and hedges also shows both Cathy and Tess are failed by both the men in their lives who seem benevolent and other women, and must rely on self-sufficiency in their struggle for bodily autonomy; Nelly actively stops Cathy from passing through her window and in Tess women actively assist and passively look on as the boundary of the hedge, representing Tess’s body, is invaded. However, the texts diverge in the women’s attempts to overcome these obstacles. Tess does not succeed in overcoming this passivity, until the hedge itself is absent and her body...